Great [Monster] Journey 8

Nov 23rd, 2013
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  1. She hadn’t meant for this.
  3. Seira kept her distance behind Galen, watching the lad closely as he walked. His steps were sluggish, he dragged his feet, and most concerning was that he hadn’t said a word in hours. Fullsburg lied another day west. She knew that would cheer him up. Not just because of the information that hopefully awaited them there, but the new experience. Right now, however, it was plain to see his spirits were dampened. While Seira felt some satisfaction at her words finally getting through to him, the longer she watched him carry on like he was, the more that feeling faded. Something else had replaced it, something she did not expect. She would almost describe it as nausea, but higher in her chest, an alien sickness which continued to spread.
  5. Galen was meant to be happy, not… this.
  7. The dropping sun flashed in her eyes, making her squint and lose focus for a second. The air around her thickened as if heavy with steam, rife with the scents of a fading forest. Nightly insects had begun their chorus and Seira’s ears twitched in response. She kept opening and closing one of her paws, pushing her claws into the pads, a tingle shooting up her arm with each clench. The wind brushed her hair against her cheeks as if it tickling her. She ignored it. Her eyes kept on their target.
  9. “I would have thought you more pleased at this.”
  11. Seira missed a step, surprised Sybyll would speak up. She had hardly spoken of her own accord since sharing her story when they’d first met.
  13. “Me too. But this doesn’t feel right. My stomach doesn’t agree with it.” She rubbed her chest. “Almost like how I felt when I met him.”
  15. “What was that like?”
  17. “As you can guess, it wasn’t what I expected. I figured I’d spook him a bit, drain him, and move on. Pretty routine.” She stretched out her neck, leaning her head to the left then right. “Things started out how I planned, but when I got to the actual feeding, he stopped resisting.”
  19. “So he wished to copulate from the beginning. Not all that uncommon.” Her words came out in that even tone of hers.
  21. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But it wasn’t that he wanted it because he knew it’d feel good, he wanted it because he was curious. Like, completely ignorant about the whole process.” She shrugged. “That killed my appetite. I don’t like it when they want it, so I walked away with the strangest stomach ache.” She pressed a paw against her stomach. “But not like I was sick. It was more like… my body felt I should be sick. If that makes sense.”
  23. “Not typical, but I think I understand the notion. You had not encountered someone like him before.”
  25. “Something like that. And I’m getting the same feeling now.” Her mouth twisted into a half-frown. “What I said before to him, I meant it and I stand by it. His ideology is too ignorant for the real world. But I almost feel like I’m missing something, too.”
  27. “If I may, I would like to share my point of view.”
  29. Seira nodded. “Go ahead.”
  31. “He is a human from an isolated island, an isolated life, and at times the owner of a reckless sort of enthusiasm toward whatever may throw itself in his path. But, even given those traits, he is not without intelligence. In a way, he represents an idealism I think many have once had, especially in youth. As we grow old, we shed more and more of that relentless hope in favor of an armor of realism. We accept the things we cannot change, make due with what we have.
  33. “Galen, however, raised in his shell of isolation, has allowed his dreams to blossom. And we would expect when removed from such an environment, they would wither and die.” Sybyll raised a hand, gesturing to Galen. “Yet here he is, already past two ordeals with such beliefs intact. What has allowed that, I wonder? Perhaps that question is the very thing that bothers you now.”
  35. Ducking under a branch, Seira looked to Galen. Sybyll had a point. As dire as things became, he always made his way through. The lamia, the search for Toneruth, and now the orcs. Could it be there was something to him, something less obvious, eluding Seira despite her scrying eye? Of course, such success could also be attributed to luck. If she stayed with him and continued to watch, she would know if his luck ran out or not.
  37. She narrowed her eyes as if trying to look through him. Soon enough, she would know.
  40. **
  43. Arms still stiffly-crossed, Galen continued to trudge through the forest, staring at the ground. Seira and Sybyll had been following at a distance for a while now, saying nothing to him, though he could sense them back there. They’d talked amongst themselves, too. Maybe about him.
  45. In front of him stood an invincible enemy, massive, intimidating, and breathing down his neck with each step. Galen had no weapon against it, but still fought. Every attempt at cheering himself up was swatted down the moment the though went through his head. It was true that his method was risky, probably unnecessarily so. It was true there were safer alternatives. It was true his plan hadn’t worked out as he hoped. It was true he had almost been made a prisoner of that band of orcs. Those were facts, no matter how he might try to squirm around them.
  47. But he couldn’t just give up on what he knew, what he’d learned. Companions stick together, fight as one, celebrate as one. The good guys always won, even if the battle wasn’t easy. No, especially if the battle wasn’t easy. With all these doubts clouding his head, he found himself not dwelling on adventurers or heroes of legend, but his father.
  49. “What would you do, dad?”
  51. Would he stick his beliefs like a tree planting its roots? Or would he drift away like a log on a raging river? There were times to stand by what you knew, but other times where the discovery of something new would make it foolish to stay stubbornly in place. ‘Even iron knows to bend to flames,’ his father would say. But was this discontent fire meant to soft Galen, or water meant to harden him?
  53. Back on Nox he never had to ask himself these questions. His parents and teachers gave him a path to follow and he followed it. They taught him the proper way of things. Biased, maybe, but without malice. They’d never had anything but his best interests in mind.
  55. Is this part of what an adventure was about? Figuring these things out for yourself? Galen’s grimace deepened as he kicked up some leaves. He didn’t like this part.
  57. His dad would… would what? He was a stalwart man, always correcting people when they did something wrong, direct in his ways but not harsh. Usually. He’d always put others before himself, but not to the point of throwing himself away for a common good. He believed in helping others not by providing, but by instruction. He didn’t have much for a sense of humor and didn’t find frequent celebration or revelry necessary, though when he did find cause for it, he went all-out. His friends could always get a smile out of him and even informal visits could go on for hours, conversation drifting from past to present to hobbies to family. Part of Galen wanted him here right now, while another told him this was something he would have to get through on his own.
  59. The forest seemed to drag on and on. The same trees, rocks, and dead leaves would say farewell only to greet him again later. Each time the wind hit him, it was from the same direction and with the same strength. Even the sun hung in the sky, unmoving. Only the change in temperature kept Galen from drifting off completely. It had dropped from comfortably warm to chilly before he knew it. He still had a couple good hours before nightfall, though, and his intention was to continue ‘till then.
  61. “Galen.” It was Sybyll.
  63. “Hmm?” He glanced her direction, but gave little care to her presence.
  65. “I suggest we train.”
  67. “Yeah, I guess that would be a good idea.” He hopped over a large rock in his way, the first change in his walking pattern for a long time.
  69. “I mean now.”
  71. He halted in his tracks. “Now?”
  73. She nodded. “Yes, now. We have made good progress today and that bridge will undoubtedly slow any pursuers, assuming we have any. We should spend these last hours of light training.”
  75. “I--“ He tried to come up with a protest, but outside of his dulled mood he couldn’t think of one. Now that he thought about it, Toneruth had been burning in its scabbard, begging to be used ever since he’d started wearing it. That encounter with the orcs had only quelled Galen’s thirst temporarily. “Okay. Let’s train.”
  77. Seira stepped forward. “Galen, I think--“
  79. He shook his head. “If it’s about what we were talking about earlier, don’t say it.” He couldn’t discuss it with her, not yet, not until his mind was clear on what he wanted.
  81. She took his request into consideration, staring at him a moment in silence before nodding. “I will hold it for now, but you will hear it soon enough.” She walked off to the nearest tree and climbed up to one of the larger branched and made herself comfortable.
  83. Galen knew she wouldn’t forget it. He didn’t want her to. Waving Sybyll over, he drew the broken Toneruth and held it out, ready to spar. Sybyll, however, pushed the blade down and shook her head.
  85. “First, I must teach you what makes Tellus--or Toneruth, as you call it--different from your other sword.” She positioned herself behind Galen, wrapping her long, sturdy arms around his body to rest her hands atop his where they gripped the sword. “Your blade is heavier than Toneruth, even moreso with Toneruth broken. While you should keep a firm grip, you should not seize up as you would with your other blade. Also, because Toneruth meets no resistance on successful strikes, you do not need such strength in your strikes to cut through the enemy. If you keep in mind Toneruth’s relative fragility, however, a stronger grip with allow some of the shock to come to your arms instead of being soaked up by the blade alone. Therefore, when the enemy is about to catch your strike with their own weapon, you should tense up.” Her hands molded Galen’s to mimic her instructions as she spoke.
  87. While Sybyll may have been little more than a spirit to other people and monsters, to Galen she was real in every way. The faint scents on her breath, the rising and falling of her chest, and the touch of her adjusting his hands reminded him of that. Galen felt heat rush to his face. While Sybyll’s touches were for purely instructional purposes, she was hardly unattractive. Her smooth skin and well-toned figure did more than intimidate Galen and he wasn’t entirely sure she realized it. When she shifted her body he felt her breasts push against his back.
  89. “Did… did you do this kind of stuff with Solvet?” he asked.
  91. “Not this particularly. When he came across Toneruth, he already knew how to fight to satisfaction. Your methods are still immature.” Her eyes shifted off to the right. “Your swordplay methods, at least.”
  93. He didn’t know whether to feel complimented or insulted. Knowing Sybyll, it was probably meant as a neutral statement of fact. “But I still have the ability to learn.”
  95. “I see no reason why not. Else I would not be teaching you.” She stepped out from behind Galen, drawing her sword and holding it length-wise in front of her. “Now pay attention. This is exactly how Toneruth will look when whole. It’s a blade born of my own power, little more than an illusion, but it will work for our purposes. Just do not expect me to be able to fight anyone else with it.” She slipped a hand under the blade, across the dulled side, her claws hugging the gleaming metal over its gentle curve. “This curve is a natural result of the forging process. I could not tell you more than that, as I am no blacksmith, but I can tell you what it means in a fight. The curve makes cuts more effective and jabs less effective, though the curve is slight enough for jabs to still be a feasible attack.” She flipped the blade over. “Be careful not to attack with the dull edge if possible. It is weaker, structurally, and swinging with it forward with make strikes less effective.”
  97. Galen flipped Toneruth over and back, scrunching up his face when he looked at it. “Why does it even have a dull side, anyways? Seems kind of useless.”
  99. “You would need to ask the one who created it. However, it does have one use. If you are ever in a contest of strength and your blade has already met the other, you can move one of your hands to press into the strike where it would be most effective.” She slid her hand over the dull edge of her blade to demonstrate. “You also do not need to worry about cutting yourself if the force of your block or parry is not enough to stop the enemy blade completely.”
  101. Galen listened intently as Sybyll explained the nuances of Toneruth, not just as a magical blade, but a physical weapon as well. She went over different grips and their pros and cons. She showed him how to manipulate his body and strike from a stance, pointing out some of his poor habits and other good habits she wanted to see him continue. Once she made tweaks, she had him practice swings until his arms were weary enough to fall off. He never complained, for he knew the path to becoming a great swordsman would not be easy. He never wanted it to be easy.
  103. Seira remained perched in her tree, watching Galen and Sybyll as the day wore on. Her hair and fur gently tussled in the wind, her tail hanging carelessly below the branch. On occasion, Galen would shoot her a glance and they would meet eyes for a moment. She wished she could see behind them.
  105. On the ground, Galen wished the same to himself, but did his best to keep from getting distracted. He wanted to make the best of the time he had. Only when the sun dipped below the horizon and Sybyll instructed him to quit did he sheath Toneruth. He held his arms out, letting them go limp at the elbow, and flopped them about, giggling to himself as he watched them flail. It’d been a while since he’d tired them so.
  107. He turned to Sybyll, wishing to get some sort of reaction out of her, but she wore her usual stoic gaze, though he detected a touch of curiosity in the slight elevation of her eyebrow.
  109. “Do you always drag your tail?”
  111. She glanced back at her tail, then to Galen. “I do not see how that is relevant.”
  113. “Well, I noticed Seira always keeps hers up, but you drag yours. I was just curious, I guess.”
  115. “It is nothing of significance. My tail is sturdy. Dirt and leaves would have no effect on it, and as I am I do not have to worry about anything ever effecting it.”
  117. He dropped his hands to his sides, still staring at her tail. “Isn’t that a bummer?”
  119. She cocked her head slightly. “My tail being immune to damage?”
  121. “No, being like you are. Almost a ghost. You don’t get hungry, can’t really touch anything and the world can’t touch you back.” He raised his head. “I mean, I wouldn’t like it.”
  123. “It is an acceptable existence.”
  125. Frowning, he arched his eyebrows. “Wow, now I’m even more bummed for you.”
  127. “I do not understand. I just stated I was fine with it.”
  129. “No, you said it was ‘acceptable’. What kind of way is that to look at your life? Just ‘acceptable’? It should be great, or heading toward it!” He gripped the sheath holding Toneruth without thinking and squeezed.
  131. “I do not require pleasantries such as ‘touching’ the world. I have the tools I need to ensure Tellus’ wielder is able to accomplish whatever task they have set themselves to and as such, I am satisfied.”
  133. “And what if ‘Tellus’ wielder’,” said Galen, making an awkward face as he spoke the words, “wants you to enjoy yourself?”
  135. “I just told you that I--“
  137. “You need a hug.” Galen stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Sybyll, though not with the crushing strength or enthusiasm with which he often attacked Seira, but a warm, gentle embrace. Smiling, Galen rested his head against her chest, closing his eyes.
  139. Sybyll did not hug back, but stood in place, arms at her sides, looking down at Galen. “You aren’t truly hugging me, but an illusion of a consciousness within a sword.”
  141. “It’s the thought that counts.”
  143. She said nothing, standing in her odd, stiff posture, Galen clinging to her and showing no signs of letting go.
  145. “Are you content yet?”
  147. He lifted his head. “It’s not about whether or not I’m content. It’s about you.”
  149. “Then I am content.”
  151. He sighed but released her nonetheless, grumbling to himself, “Someone’s going to return a hug one of these days.”
  153. With the sun set and training over, there was little for Galen to do but sit and watch the forest until he grew drowsy enough to sleep. He considered talking with Sybyll, but she seemed uninterested. Seira he’d talk with later.
  155. Slapping his hands to his sides, he meandered through the forest, kicking up dirt and looking for nothing in particular. Eventually he came to a sizable rock jutting out of the ground smooth and wide enough to hold him, so he plopped himself down, leaning back on his arms and staring at the treetops. Stars, right? That’s what they were last night, anyways. Maybe tonight they were cracks.
  157. ‘Just because we ended up getting away without splitting up doesn’t mean your choices were smart.’
  159. Seira’s words cut into him like any blade. He almost didn’t want to be smart if it meant he couldn’t be courageous, too.
  161. He could try moving forward as he always had, but take note of when his principles helped and when they hindered. Maybe that’s what he needed to learn: the strengths and weaknesses of his thoughts and actions, how they meshed with the world, and how to improve. He huffed and leaned forward on elbows. That sounded a lot like compromising, though. He didn’t like to compromise, he wanted to be different, be the guy that made it through all his troubles despite his weaknesses. He didn’t want to cover them up or replace them--he liked who he was now.
  163. He drew Toneruth, the distinctive hiss of metal leaving a sheath kissing the air as the broken blade came free. Balancing the weight on his fingers, he moved the blade until the sharp edge caught the moonlight and reflected it into his eyes. The waves forged into the sword flowed as the weapon hovered in its precarious balance. Galen asked himself what he had been expecting when he found it. For someone to walk up to him and hand him an ‘adventurer’s permit’ or something? For everyone to suddenly start respecting him and his ideas? At the very least, he’d thought he’d have a super-weapon capable of rending the earth, but this? Unique, yes, but nothing much to it when broken. He wanted actual strength, not some withered symbol of it.
  165. Stories weren’t always everything he chalked them up to be, he guessed.
  168. **
  171. Morning came with no poked noses, giggling or pranks. For once, the sun itself woke Galen, peering into the cracks of his eyelids and prying his eyes open. Yawning, he located his bag and took a drink before hopping to his feet. He reached down to his toes and started to stretch, just like every other morning. Maybe today would be better, maybe not, but skipping his routine definitely wouldn’t help. It felt good to wake his body up, shake off the stiffness in his back. The ground had never been particularly kind to him as a bed. When he got to running in place, he checked to see where Seira and Sybyll were.
  173. Sybyll was sitting cross-legged, back against a tree, her eyes closed and breathing steady. He wondered what she did during the night, seeing as she didn’t need to sleep. She might be thinking about her past experiences, her home village, or nothing at all. Her face was always empty of any real emotion. Could she really be so detached?
  175. Far above Sybyll hung Seira, awake and watching Galen, her foot-paws absent-mindedly scratching the tree bark. When he caught her eye, she hopped off the branch, digging her claws into the trunk and riding it all the way to the ground.
  177. “Come to get that conversation out of me?” he asked, half-sarcastic, half-dreading.
  179. “No, I figure you’ll come out with it when you’re ready. I just wanted to give you the chance if you wanted to.”
  181. The corners of his mouth curled upward into a tiny smile. Nodding, he slung his backpack onto his shoulders and set out.
  183. Soon. He’d have his answers soon.
  185. The three paraded through the forest, west like always, keeping their eyes and ears open.
  187. Just as the day began to wear on, they broke through the end of the treeline to reveal their destination.
  189. Galen’s jaw dropped. His village didn’t even come close. Fullsburg was on a whole ‘nother level. His eyes grew wider and wider as he soaked in the sight, unable to find anything in his mind to compare it to. Past a sea of green plains stood grand city walls, stone and high as oak trees, circled the dense mess of buildings inside. From one side of the city to the other was at the absolute least was a mile, maybe longer. It was so far out Galen couldn’t make a good guess. Various columns of smoke as well as tufts of steam rose from different areas. Blacksmiths or alchemists’ shops, perhaps. The buildings were tall, too, some even taller than the walls.
  191. It was beyond his expectations. Massive, sprawling, and beautiful. His legs couldn’t carry him there fast enough. Grinning, he took off toward the gates, hollering back at his companions to follow.
  193. Seira smirked at his enthusiasm and stepped forward to follow him. Whatever he’d lost yesterday, he’d gotten back. She put a paw just above her stomach. That alien nausea still settled there, dull but constant like it might intensify at any moment.
  195. “Seira.”
  197. She paused, directing her attention to Sybyll. “What is it?”
  199. The tiniest pause hung in the air, the sort that one unconsciously leaves when taking a breath before speaking.
  201. “I feel it too.”
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